Ginger McCain and Red Rum - History of The Grand National
Ginger McCain September 21, 1930 - September 19, 2011
The trainer most associated with Aintree Racecourse, Ginger McCain, died peacefully at his home on September 19, 2011, two days shy of his 81st birthday.
The history books show Ginger was the joint most successful Grand National trainer of all time, thanks to three remarkable wins with Red Rum and the success of Amberleigh House.
But his contribution to Aintree’s rich history goes far deeper than those four magical victories. Ginger was the man who helped save the Grand National from sliding into obscurity and possibly worse, with Red Rum thrusting the race back into the public consciousness.
The son of a dispatch manager, Donald McCain, or Ginger as he would universally become known due to the colour of his hair, was born on September 21, 1930 in humble surroundings at Birkdale, Southport.
He watched his first National in 1940 and was immediately taken in by the sense of occasion that surrounded the famous race. “To a young boy, it seemed like the whole world had turned up … It made a big impression on me and ended up changing my life in ways I could never have dreamed of,” he recollected in his autobiography some 65 years later.
Ginger helped his grandfather drive a horse-drawn float for the local butchers as a child and was given a job by the same firm after leaving school. Following spells working as a milk boy with the Co-op, operating the lights at Southport’s Garrick Theatre and a call-up for National Service, Ginger started to ride out for Tarporley trainer Frank Speakman in 1950.
He subsequently partnered point-to-pointers and hunters at nearby Hulgrave Hall but his career took another turn when he did a runner from the stables after catching the eye of a German housemaid.
Returning to Southport, Ginger reinvented himself as a jack of all trades - dividing his time between running a car showroom, training horses under a permit from 1953 until taking out a full licence in 1969 and driving a taxi.
Among his fares was his future wife Beryl and they were married on March 25, 1961, the same day that trainer Fred Rimell sent out the second of his four Grand National successes with Nicolaus Silver.
Ginger also had Frank Sinatra and Norman Wisdom in the back of his cab, but it was another passenger, Noel Le Mare, who would ignite the dream of winning the Grand National.
Le Mare had been seduced by the magic of the race ever since he watched the spectacle unfold when working as a junior fitter in 1906 but it was not until he was nearly 80 that the millionaire found a trusted ally to share his long-held ambition.
Ginger celebrated his first winner in 1965 - San Lorenzo who took a selling chase at Aintree on January 2, 1965 - but things did not start well with Le Mare whose Glenkiln failed make it to the start in 1972 after being mistakenly withdrawn by the trainer at the forfeit stage for the Grand National.
Nevertheless, the trainer and owner redoubled their efforts and Ginger purchased Red Rum, born on May 3, 1965, for 6,000 guineas at Doncaster Sales in August, 1972.
Yet almost immediately the dream of National glory looked to have gone awry as Red Rum hobbled out of his stable lame a day after arriving at Southport.
Ginger’s preparation of a horse almost crippled by pedal osteitis marked him as a trainer of exceptional ability, if unconventional methods.
With no grass gallops, McCain worked his horses on the vast expanse of Southport beach and, as a child, had noticed the beneficial effect of sea water on the horses that shrimpers used.
He sent his new acquisition into the cold waters of the Irish Sea and witnessed a remarkable transformation as the horse returned sound.
Red Rum went on and won his first five races for Ginger. The horse’s success under 10st 5lb in the 1973 Grand National at the age of eight became the stuff of legend as he wore down Crisp in the dying strides for a remarkable victory by three quarters of a length in a then course record time under Brian Fletcher.
However, not surprisingly, much of the media coverage focused on the gallant effort of the Australian-bred runner-up and top-weight, the other 9/1 joint favourite, who gave away 23lb to Red Rum. Crisp, jumping boldly, went clear and was still 15 lengths ahead at the last only to be caught close home.
It was the same year that Mirabel Topham, keen to sell Aintree Racecourse since 1965, finally found a purchaser in property developer Bill Davies.
Red Rum was never better than in the 1973/74 season when he won four more races before collecting his second Grand National, this time carrying top-weight of 12st. Giving 1lb to the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner L’Escargot, Red Rum started third favourite at 11/1. He won easily by seven lengths when again partnered by Brian Fletcher. Only three weeks later, Red Rum captured the Scottish Grand National.
Between the autumn of 1974 and spring of 1976, he ran in 18 chases, winning twice and being placed seven times including his second when Irish challenger L’Escargot turned the tables in the 1975 Grand National. Red Rum carried 12st again and was beaten 15 lengths.
The attendance at Aintree for that Grand National was the smallest in living memory after Davies tripled admission prices and there was a lot of doom and gloom about the future of both the racecourse and the Grand National.
Ladbrokes stepped in later during 1975 and signed an agreement with Davies to manage the course and run the Grand National which the bookmaker did successfully for seven years.
Ginger, bombarded with media criticism for running Red Rum too often, was called on to retire his stable star. But Red Rum showed good form when sixth in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in November, 1975 and the following April, shouldering top-weight of 11st 10lb, was worn down by the Fred Rimell-trained Rag Trade in the 1976 Grand National, finishing runner-up, two lengths behind, after Tommy Stack took over from Fletcher in the saddle.
The 1976/77 season began dismally. After an initial small win at Carlisle, Red Rum appeared lacklustre in his next four races and even Ginger began to think that he might have ‘gone’.
Red Rum finally showed something like his true form when sixth in his prep race to the 1977 Grand National, the Greenall Whitley Chase ay Haydock.
He then dazzled the trainer in his last gallop before Aintree. Again ridden by Stack, Red Rum at the age of 12 tackled his fifth Grand National in 1977 and Churchtown Boy’s mistake at the second last fence settled things in the former’s favour, winning easily by 25 lengths under 11st 8lb.
Sir Peter O’Sullevan’s now legendary commentary for BBC Television was heard in millions of living rooms up and down the country as Red Rum took his place among the racing immortals: “As they come to the last fence in the National and Red Rum with a tremendous chance of winning his third National.
“He’s jumped it clear of Churchtown Boy - he’s done it with a tremendous cheer from the crowd; they’re willing him home now!
“The 12-year-old Red Rum, being preceded only by loose horses … they’re coming to the “elbow” with a furlong now between Red Rum and his third Grand National triumph.
“He’s coming up to the line to win it like a fresh horse in great style. It’s hats off and a tremendous reception - you’ve never heard one like it at Liverpool. Red Rum wins the National.”
The phenomenal chaser was trained for a sixth attempt at the great race in 1978 as a 13-year-old but, on the day before, he pulled up lame. The problem proved to be a hairline fracture and the horse had to be retired.
Red Rum was feted as a people’s champion throughout his retirement and Ginger fully embraced the chaser’s standing as a national treasure. The horse became a limited company, gracing key rings, fine china, records, tea towels - a shop was opened across the rode from the trainer’s car showroom dedicated to selling Red Rum merchandise - while supermarkets, pubs and betting shops were opened up and down the country besides numerous television appearances.
Aintree Racecourse’s future was finally secured in 1984 when it was purchased from Davies by Racecourse Holdings Trust, a Jockey Club subsidiary which is now called Jockey Club Racecourses.
Red Rum, the horse who put the Grand National and Aintree back into the limelight, lived to the ripe old age of 30. He died on October 18, 1995 and was buried by the winning post at Aintree Racecourse. The spot is marked by a headstone, listing his unparalleled Grand National record.
Ginger continued to train successfully, moving to the Cholmondeley Estate in Cheshire in 1990, although he fully appreciated that he would always be known as the man who trained Red Rum.
“Everyone called me a one-horse trainer but it never bothered me,” he famously said. “I just used to laugh and say ‘yeah, but what a bloody good job I made of the one I had’.”
But there was time for a glorious final chapter to his training career as, 27 years after Red Rum’s final Grand National victory, Ginger walked back into the hallowed Aintree winner’s enclosure with Amberleigh House.
Those who dismissed the then 73-year-old as a one-horse trainer were forced to eat humble pie as the veteran equalled the Grand National training record held by Fred Rimell of
His son Donald was by now an integral part of Ginger’s establishment, having moved back to the family fold after Ginger moved from Southport to Cheshire and the handover from father to son occurred in June, 2006.
But Ginger was still heavily involved in the day-to-day duties and took up his new duties as assistant trainer with aplomb, never afraid to voice his forthright opinion on how the stable should be run.
“I don’t go into the yard at times, because I’d just lose my bloody temper,” he told the Racing Post after handing over the reins. “But the horses are winning and I don’t know why they are winning. And I go to the racecourse and they’ve got coats on them like seals, bloody beautiful coats, and I can’t accept it, can’t believe it because they are not being done as they should be done. The truth of it must be that the others are being done terrible.”
Underneath the bluster, Ginger was immensely proud of both Donald and his sister Joanne and that admiration shone through with the success of Ballabriggs in the 2011 John Smith’s Grand National.
“I’ve always said I’d like to see Donald win a National before I turn my toes up and he’s done it. I never dreamed I would say it but he’s a good trainer.”
More than 1,000 people attended a service of thanksgiving for Ginger at Liverpool Cathedral on November 15 2011.
Those who paid their respects not only included a host of luminaries from the racing world but also notable faces from other walks of life whose lives had been touched by “Mr Aintree” including legendary singer Gerry Marsden and Sir Bobby Charlton, who had once bought a pony from the trainer.
Throughout his life, Ginger had been an enormous supporter of Aintree Racecourse and he was often outspoken in his praise.
“There is not another course in the country I’d rather win at than Aintree - you can keep Cheltenham, Ascot and Epsom.”
He knew how to stoke up controversy and frequently did so, such as with his old-fashioned views on women, but he was always good company, with many stories to tell. Ginger and Red Rum were true Grand National legends.
GINGER MCCAIN’S ACHIEVEMENTS RECOGNISED
McCain’s achievements and long association with the racecourse, which saw Red Rum and him become household names, will be commemorated by a one-and-a-half time life-size bronze at Aintree.
The bust will be produced by British sculptor Nigel Boonham and sited for racegoers to look at.
Donald McCain, speaking on behalf of the McCain family, said: “When Aintree discussed the idea with us, we were thrilled that they had chosen to commemorate Dad’s achievements with a bronze portrait bust.
“It is fitting that the bust will be sited at Aintree, a place he held dear to his heart. We now look forward to seeing Nigel’s work in progress and I am sure we will feel great pride in unveiling the bust for all to see at the Grand National meeting in April.”
Julian Thick, Aintree Racecourse’s Managing Director, commented: “Ginger’s larger-than-life personality and Red Rum’s domination of the Grand National in the 1970s, with three wins and two seconds, re-ignited the nation’s love of the race and it is for that reason we decided a fitting tribute to his achievements should be marked with bronze bust.
“We look forward to the bust becoming a permanent fixture for visitors to enjoy for many years to come.”
Boonham’s previous works include distinguished bronze portraits of Lord Runcie (Archbishop of Canterbury), Archbishop Daniel Mannix (Archbishop of Melbourne), Peter Jonas and Joseph Needham. His best known portrait, of Diana, Princess of Wales, was unveiled by the Princess herself at the National Hospital of Neurology, in London in 1991.
The Ginger McCain portrait will be Boonham’s first of a horseracing personality. His works of other sportsmen include Wimbledon champion John McEnroe and Lord Sebastian Coe.
Boonham said: “When I was asked to make a portrait bust of Ginger McCain, I was immediately struck by what a marvellous, expressive, sculptural face Ginger had, which is always an exciting start.
“But more than that it was a chance to celebrate permanently in bronze, the familiar face of a legendary figure of Aintree, one who has touched a multitude of people who love horse racing, Aintree and of course Red Rum.”
The plan is for the bust to be unveiled by the McCain family at the 2012 John Smith’s Grand National meeting, which starts with Liverpool Day on Thursday, April 12.
A life-size bronze of Red Rum, produced by former jockey Philip Blacker, has stood at Aintree Racecourse since 1988.
The Legend that was Red Rum
It was 35 years ago that Red Rum gained the first of his three Grand National victories, earning him pride of place in racing’s record books. Bred to be a sprinter, Red Rum won the world’s best-known chase in 1973, 1974 and 1977 as well as finishing second on his other two starts to become the greatest Grand National performer ever.
Tim Molony bought Red Rum as a yearling for 400 guineas in 1966 for owner Maurice Kingsley, with the intention of winning the two-year-old seller on the Flat at Liverpool the following March. The horse duly obliged, dead-heating with Curlicue. Molony had to go to 300 guineas to buy back Red Rum at the auction which always follows selling races.
Donald ‘Ginger’ McCain was present at Aintree to witness the race and the sale, but he was seeking jump horses and he walked away before the bidding began for the horse that would bring him fame six years later. Red Rum won twice more and was bought by Yorkshire trainer Bobby Renton on behalf of owner Lurline ‘Muffie’ Brotherton, for whom he had won the Grand National in 1950 with Freebooter. When Renton retired, he asked Tommy Stack to take over. Stack juggled careers as a trainer and jockey for a few months before his friend, trainer Anthony Gillam, offered to step into the breach.
But disaster struck when Red Rum acquired the debilitating bone disease pedalosteitis, which should have rendered him unraceable. When three separate vets were told that the horse had suffered from that affliction after Red Rum’s triumph in the 1973 Grand National, they dismissed the idea as impossible. After a course of medicine and intense physiotherapy, Red Rum seemed to recover. But in the 1972 Scottish Grand National, in which he finished an excellent fifth, the horse kept changing his legs in the last three quarters of a mile, hanging unusually towards the rails. McCain, a taxi driver who ran a small stable behind a used-car showroom in Southport, saw the race and noted Red Rum as a potential National horse for Noel Le Mare, for whom McCain often begged to be allowed to train horses. It had long been Le Mare’s cherished ambition to own a Grand National winner which he was to finally achieve at the age of 84.
Mrs Brotherton sent Red Rum to Doncaster’s August Sales (1972), where McCain, emboldened by a pot of 7,000 guineas from Le Mare, paid 6,000 guineas for the gelding. But when he initially trotted the horse, Red Rum appeared lame. Again fate stepped in: Red Rum was at probably the only yard in the country where the training took place on a beach. The sea water, into which McCain banished Red Rum after viewing the hobbling horse, worked an amazing transformation. Red Rum trotted out sound.
Immediately things began to fall right. Red Rum won his first five races for his new trainer, on ground varying from good to hard. On March 31, 1973, he started joint-favourite for the Grand National and got up close home to beat the gallant front-running Crisp by three quarters of a length in a then record time. Red Rum was never better than in the 1973/74 season when he won four more races before collecting his second Grand National, this time carrying the maximum weight of 12st. Giving 1lb to the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, L’Escargot, Red Rum started third favourite at 11/1. He won easily by seven lengths when again partnered by Brian Fletcher. Only three weeks later, Red Rum took the Scottish Grand National.
Between the autumn of 1974 and spring of 1976, he ran in 18 chases, winning twice and being placed seven times. Red Rum failed to resist L’Escargot in the 1975 Grand National, coming second. McCain, bombarded with media criticism for running him too often, was called on to retire his stable star. But Red Rum showed good form when sixth in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury and over four months later was worn down by Rag Trade in the 1976 Grand National, again finishing second. The 1976/77 season began dismally. After an initial small win at Carlisle, Red Rum appeared lacklustre in his next four races, and even McCain began to think that he might have ‘gone’.
Red Rum finally showed something like his true form when sixth in his prep race to the 1977 Grand National, the Greenall Whitley Chase at Haydock. Then he dazzled McCain in his last gallop before Aintree. Again ridden by Stack, Red Rum tackled his fifth Grand National in 1977 and Churchtown Boy’s mistake at the second last fence settled things in the former’s favour, winning by 25 lengths under 11st 8lb.
The phenomenal chaser was trained for a sixth attempt at the great race in 1978 as a 13-year-old, but on the day before he pulled up lame. The problem proved to be a hairline fracture and the horse had to be retired. Red Rum died at the grand old age of 30 in 1995 and was buried by the Aintree winning post. His grave is marked by an engraved stone, listing his Grand National record. A life-size bronze statue also commemorates this legendary horse, along with a race staged at the John Smith’s Grand National meeting.